EUROPEANS may have used magic mushrooms to liven up religious rituals 6000 years ago. So suggests a cave mural in Spain, which may depict fungi with hallucinogenic properties – the oldest evidence of their use in Europe.

The Selva Pascuala mural, in a cave near the town of Villar del Humo, is dominated by a bull. But it is a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects that interests Brian Akers at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, Florida, and Gaston Guzman at the Ecological Institute of Xalapa in Mexico. They believe that the objects are the fungi Psilocybe hispanica, a local species with hallucinogenic properties.

Like the objects depicted in the mural, P. hispanica has a bell-shaped cap topped with a dome, and lacks an annulus – a ring around the stalk. “Its stalks also vary from straight to sinuous, as they do in the mural,” says Akers (Economic BotanyDOI: 10.1007/s12231-011-9152-5).

This isn’t the oldest prehistoric painting thought to depict magic mushrooms, though. An Algerian mural that may show the species Psilocybe mairei is 7000 to 9000 years old.